The Earl of Kerrich, Devon Mathewes, needs respectability to keep Queen Victoria happy. She is married and interested in a family but she sees him as a rake. So he, too, will provide himself with a family. He doesn’t want marriage, but if he could temporarily get himself an orphan accompanied by a strict governess - that should be a respectable enough family for anyone.
Miss Pamela Lockhart, co-owner of the Distinguished Academy of Governesses, needs money to keep the new academy going. What money the Academy has was just been stolen from her. She is willing to do anything, risk society finding out her past, risk dealing with the annoying Earl, anything. Anything here means that she decides to disguise herself as a middle-aged, frumpy governess and find a suitable orphan for the Earl.
To Kerrich’s dismay, nothing goes the way he planned. He needs the Queen’s approval to help keep the family’s bank going once his cousin began to float counterfeit money through it. He also needs to concentrate on catching his cousin. But his schemes get more complicated. His cousin keeps escaping. The orphan he takes in turns out to be a child he rather cares for.
And the frumpy governess is driving him crazy. She makes him laugh and, to his dismay, even makes him interested in seeing what’s under that dowdy clothing. He doesn’t want to be involved with any of them, yet he becomes more involved by the day. And, once he realizes just who his disguised governess is, he knows he can’t leave her alone. She became an important fantasy in his past and he wants to fulfill that fantasy now.
Pamela doesn’t want to hurt the child she picks for Kerrich’s plot. She is amazed when Kerrich and the orphaned Beth start to form a bond. Pamela, for one, knows better than innocent Beth. Pamela doesn’t want to get involved with someone who has as bad a reputation as her father did. And when he proposes to her, she is certain she doesn’t want to marry him. She might be willing to have an affair with him but anything permanent is out of the question. What she can’t believe, though, is that he doesn’t give up even after she does sleep with him. Even worse, he seems to understand her and care for her despite being a rake.
While other aspects of the plot - like the danger posed by the cousin and the reason the Queen can blackmail Kerrich into respectability - are less compelling, Kerrich’s reluctant interest in Pamela and her struggle not to be interested right back is really well done. Kerrich’s rules for who he will marry fall apart when he falls for Pamela and Pamela, who has equally strict ideas on how she will handle herself around rakes, discovers she can’t stick to her beliefs when he begins to charm her.
Even worse, Pamela is even more fascinated with Kerrich when he stops using charm and starts to sound sincere. They are stunned when their ideas about love and marriage, ideas they formed during two separate and unhappy childhoods, are shaken by the person they love. They don’t want to acknowledge it, but they are compelled to realize some of those values are just plain childish. How the two manage to change each other’s minds is sexy and charming and romantic. I want to read more!